The Chicago Bulls start their regular season Thursday, playing away against the Philadelphia 76ers. This is a young team with plenty of work to do, so there are going to be concerns. Tribune’s K.C. Johnson fielded some pressing concerns in the preseason about the Bulls’ defense, coaching and long-term plans. Is this the worst defensive team in Bulls history?
That record belongs to the 1985-86 Bulls if you’re using defensive rating as your metric and the expansion 1966-67 Bulls if you’re going straight points allowed. The 1985-86 team, which incidentally was Jerry Krause’s first season as general manager, finished 30-52 and had a league-worst defensive rating of 112.4. The 1966-67 Bulls went 33-48, made the playoffs and allowed 116.9 points per game.
If the Bulls defend the way they did at the start of the preseason, they would be lucky to sniff 30 victories.
Is there any internal concern about Jim Boylen’s defensive coaching, or is the pressure on the players to get it done? Watching preseason, some of these guys who have been in the system two or three years are showing the same lapses.
Boylen, who is Fred Hoiberg’s associate head coach, seems to be well-regarded internally. He’s a veteran assistant who preaches accountability. He also puts in offseason work to develop different relationships with players, something that often is better for assistant coaches to do than head coaches.
Boylen largely is responsible for the defense. And for a franchise that typically has shunned switching on screens, the Bulls finally are trying to join the way the league is trending and doing more of that this season. There have been some, shall we say, growing pains thus far.
This isn’t to absolve Boylen, but the
Bulls are a young team. They also feature historically minus defenders. Now, there’s no reason someone like, say, Zach LaVine, with his athleticism, can’t be a better defender. And even someone like Jabari Parker, who has been challenged at that end, can become a solid team defender. I always point to the example of Kyle Korver, who despite not possessing the most lateral quickness shined in Tom Thibodeau’s system as a team defender. He routinely stripped players with solid positioning and quick hands. And he hustled back on defense. The Bulls, under Hoiberg and Boylen and the rest of the staff, need to do the same. Why haven’t the Bulls considered bringing in a veteran point guard to back up Kris Dunn? The current backups, including Dunn to an extent, have trouble running an NBA offense and can’t seem to make a simple entry pass. Doesn’t this hinder the development of guys like Lauri Markkanen or Wendell Carter Jr.?
Maybe this got lost in translation, but the Bulls are going through a rebuild. They want as few veterans as possible. And they’re determined to ride out the Cameron Payne experience.
One thing you’ve heard management and the coaching staff consistently say about this roster is having it feature multiple ballhandlers and facilitators. It’s trying to become a more modern, versatile roster. So in theory, most everyone should be able to handle the ball and make entry passes.
The formula for a championship-contending team seems to have a minimum requirement of three All-Starcaliber players, with one of them being a top-tier star a la LeBron James or Kevin Durant. Does management view LaVine-Markkanen-Carter as a trio capable of competing for championships in the next three to five years? Or does management still think they’re another star player or two short of contending? If so, are they planning to address this through the draft or free agency? Considering the past subpar free-agent signings, wouldn’t it make more sense to have another tank-athon season for another shot at a high draft pick?
Management has been pretty transparent about its plan since trading Jimmy Butler. Try to stockpile as many young assets with obviously the hope one turns into a bona fide star and worry about roster fit later. Management obviously hopes LaVine, Markkanen and Carter can form the foundation for championship contention. You could probably throw Kris Dunn in there as a long-term fit as well. But nobody, including management, yet knows if it will happen or it needs more pieces. Management also has stressed its beloved financial flexibility. And the Bulls project to have ample salary-cap space this summer. So to answer your second question, I’d guess they’re targeting free agency more than a high draft pick as of now. After all, John Paxson said he doesn’t want to live through another season like last season again.
Chicago Bulls forward Wendell Carter Jr. is defended by Indiana Pacers forward Myles Turner during an NBA preseason basketball game.